You Be the Trainer #5: Preview

By Monique Ames, Carey Kepler, Andy Petranek and Tony Budding

In Coaching

January 24, 2010

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The You Be the Trainer series gives the CrossFit community a chance to compare their training savvy with top CrossFit coaches. In this edition, Monique Ames, Carey Kepler and Andy Petranek talk about motivating a client whose family commitments and nagging injuries are making it difficult to get to the box.

We’ve all been there: sometimes life just gets in the way of getting to the gym. Add in a few old injuries, and suddenly your PRs seem like mythical numbers notched by someone else, someone who had the time to work out with intensity.

Joan is at a crossroads in her CrossFit training, and she’s thinking of walking away. She’s frustrated with an aching elbow and a sore toe, and every time she tries to get to the gym, a co-worker gets sick or a child gets whacked in the head with a baseball.

You’ve booked a one-on-one session with Joan and have one last chance to get her back on track. What do you do?

Discuss your strategy in the comments, and on Jan. 26 we’ll post the responses by Monique Ames (CrossFit Evolution), Carey Kepler (CrossFit Central), Andy Petranek (CrossFit L.A.) and Tony Budding of CrossFit HQ.

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24 Comments on “You Be the Trainer #5: Preview”


wrote …

It seems like Joan does a lot of met-con and running around in general.

I say slow it down a bit with a 1rm or 3rm deadlift keeping the weight off the toe and stress off the elbow.


wrote …

To me it looks like she can do better but just does not have the extra energy to put in.
so motivating her is my prime objectve. not to get her more to the gym but to make her feel satisfied even though she is there only 2 times a week.

So 1st i talk to her. try to make her see that she will be training less because of the kids and the job but that does not mean she cant do great suff.
she is my long time client so i know what she likes and what she does not like. for the 1st couple of trainings i would make workouts that she realy loves doing. maybe with her fave exercises an maybe mix in 1 of her goats. and i would make em short hard fast wods for her.
So she feels very happy after a wod well done. then when she feels the love again maybe we can mix it up again but still scale her so her wods are a happy wod.
i feel like saying that she will never be as good or go to new hights as before because she only trains 2 times a week. but she can still do great and get slightly better than before. that she needs to take pride in the fact that she is a mom an manager AND a great crossfitter...
but i dont know if that is a good idea... i think exepting that is important.

would people please comment on my ideas i'm interesed in knowing what you think!!


wrote …

Try to bring the fun back into training. Give her a day of good healthy competition with others that are of similar ability. If it's fun, hopefully she'll come back for more.

Also, it might be a good idea to remind her that if she takes more time off, those injuries may linger and won't get taken care of.

In the long run, incorporate some 5 X 5 strength training.


Jesse Gray wrote …

It sounds to me like Joan needs something to shoot for. Motivation can be tough to come by if you're not working towards anything. I would talk with Joan, figure out an achievable goal and work towards it. At the same time, I would try and make it a goal that could work around her injuries while we rehab them with some active recovery exercises.


I really do like the Happy WOD for her I think it is great for her to feel better connected to it again. With exercises, she likes to do; it will just make her happy. Also might need to look at a different time blocks for her to accommodate the times she cannot get in. if she has been coming at a regular time ask her to change it up. In addition, if you have one of the trainers that she works with best I would give it to them.


wrote …

I also like the idea of doing something she likes.

Take a few mins to talk to her about how she's feeling. I'm sure that she is feeling burned out and that she doesn't have the time.

Sunday - 15mi bike ride (probably not the hardest but takes a fair amount of time)
Monday - 2x 20 min walks w/ dog (40 mins, good amount of time)
Tuesday - Not enough time/ got interrupted
Wednesday - Not enough time/ short met con (probably feeling unfulfilled)
Thursday - 5 rounds of a movement that bothers her elbow, got interrupted again, poor time
Friday - Nothing/Rest
Saturday - Wants to give up

I think after a week like this I would want to give up too. I think it would be better to get less workout days with a better workout then spreading ones self too thin.

I'd say look back over the week with here and help her to realize if she's running low on time she can do a short met con instead of a long one. If she brings her daughter to the gym throw in a strength day so there is time between reps. Perhaps grab a tennis ball or lacrosse ball and see if there isn't some tension in the muscle around the elbow that could be loosened up.

I'm not sure about setting her up to compete with someone because there is a chance that already doesn't want to be there. And if she doesn't do well then it will be difficult to talk her out of leaving.

I think a strength day is a good choice then talking about how she is feeling.


wrote …

One crucial component that Joan's training is missing is intensity. Also, having such a busy schedule and not being able to get into the gym, she rarely goes at all. So she is heading down a path of training regression. I would start Joan back on a new goal of shorter, more intense workouts. If you dont have 51 minutes a day to spare to your training at a gym, I would stay away from wod's like Eva for now. Right now she feels like she is putting serious time into something that she is getting nothing out of, she is doing long, low intense stuff, when she could be doing shorter higher intensity workouts. Then while she is spending less time in the gym, she'll be making more progress, and essentially having a reason to even be going to your gym. Then at the end of the day, she'll still have time to live her life. Make your workouts fit her schedule, not her schedule fit your workouts. Train to live, dont live to train.


wrote …


She needs a short and sweet bout of high intensity conditioning to fire her up.

Then, reminisce about the early days, and the improvement she's made. Explain and demonstrate her how this way of training leads to a better way of life.

Also, make sure she knows that Crossfit isn't everything. She still needs to focus on her getting her life straight, but in combination with Crossfit it makes dealing with the stress that much easier.

Seeing how she's experiencing so many changes in her life (and quite a bit of DOMS from Eva) it might be time to take a week off. Schedule another training session in 7 to 10 days.


wrote …

I am a affiliate out here in Brockton, Ma and at times get clients like this within my box... First I would tell her that she is making a good effort to get into the gym and sometimes LIFE is just hard and gets in the way... I would def give her a free session one on one with me and just try to get her motivated over the coming months... I would ask her simple questions such as WHY does she feel CrossFit is not for her and have her write it down in a journal or log book... I would give her workouts that were short, but not to brutal so it does not drag her down and make her feel worst about herself... Even though she has been CrossFitting for over two years, you almost have to treat her like a new client and start all over... In my box, I first establish that safety is the number one priority for every client... Second most important is technique... and third is the intensity... Within time she will develop her intensity and passion for the workouts... However, first we must establish a base that allows her to gain her confidence again and get back on track, where she left off a few years ago... However, I would remind her that she is a great mother and family does comes first and that she is doing a great job in providing for her family... I would try to correlate with her present day life, how successful she has come with being promoted in her job and also how she has fought through various injuries and stills has the passion to make it into the gym... This would be a good stepping stone because it would show her she def has the drive to succeed in life and that she has the passion to accomplish anything she puts her mind to... I would take it easy on her and just let the steps fall into place... Short, small workouts to build up her confidence and also to get her into the gym, but not to keep her there forever... She already has enough going on her life, so why would we want to push her anymore??


wrote …

First off, I'm not a certified CF trainer and I've only been doing it for a short period of time, so I don't have the experience that a lot of you seem to have. However, I have been involved in athletics and organizations that require constant adjustment with people.

1. Joan was a different person when she first started. Things weren't as hectic and she had the time to work out and didn't feel cramped with activities and responsibilities. Everyone changes. I'm surprised she hasn't been going through periodic assessments to figure out if she's reached goals or if she wants to change her goals. The one on one session needs to focus on what her basic desire was 2 years ago and how that has changed.

2. With a change in responsibilities comes a change in schedules. If she doesn't have the time to do longer workouts, then she should be shifting her focus to shorter, more intense workouts. I know this has already been said, but it's definitely a good idea.

3. I'm surprised nobody touched on her increase in alcohol consumption. Something is definitely going on. She's stressing, she might even be depressed. You are not only training her, but you should also be her friend. Perhaps she just needs someone to talk with. Remind her that CrossFit is a community and everyone is there as a team. If she needs a little help, then let's find some people to help her out.

4. I feel that competition can be a good thing, but it's a double-edged sword. She could get her butt kicked by somebody that's of "comparable level" and completely give up. Or she could rekindle her desire to improve. It's a tough call and hopefully after 2 years you have the experience with her to decide if it's a good choice.

5. Lastly, she does have nagging injuries. I'm not sure what can be done for the big toe. It might be a matter of running form that's causing the pain, or maybe it's just that painful. She probably needs to take time off from doing exercises that aggravate that toe. Her elbow? Let's think about what causes tennis elbow. Rapid, powerful pronation of the arm during repetitive swings of a tennis racquet. There must be some movement that she is doing incorrectly or maybe she just shouldn't be doing exercises that mimic that movement. It's an overuse injury and if she doesn't take a break, it just makes her more miserable.

All in all, I think that she needs to reassess her goals. She needs to set some short term and some long term goals. She needs to be reminded why CrossFit is an integral part of her life. If you can't come to a positive outcome, then maybe she should take some time off. Perhaps she just needs some time to settle into her new responsibilities and schedule. Then maybe she'll come back after her hiatus. You never know.

Anyway, like I said, I'm not even a trainer, but these are my thoughts on the client. Feel free to "rip me a new one" if I'm way off base here.


wrote …

Obviously time is at a premium with Joan, the last thing I would do is try to get her to the gym more often. That would just create an adversarial relationship between CrossFit and her. Therefore her training should be integrated with her current situation and not placed outside of it, i.e. going to the gym more. I would take the hour and not so much put her through a workout, as teach her some WODs that she could do at home with her family. Then I would start up a CrossFit kids program. I would do something to show her that CrossFit is for her.

After that when she came to the gym, I would work on the areas Joan doesn't get at home and give her more ideas for WODs at home.

As far as the injuries are concerned rehabilitative exercises and scaling would be prescribed.

Let's face it Joan will probably never reach her full athletic/CrossFit potential because her life will get in the way, nor will she have the desire to to reach that potential anytime soon. She simply can't donate enough time and effort to it, but that doesn't mean that she can't be as fit as possible given her current situation.


wrote …

Assess and address controllable factors. In Joan's situation, it will probably be very difficult to get adequate sleep all the time, she'll have to deal with work issues constantly, and the occasional family emergency. So what we can control:

-Diet. I've had athletes who are all kinds of busy...from mothers to businesswomen to cops and firefighters, and with the willpower, they have always been able to control their nutrition. There are a few very good articles on this in the CFJ (Greg A's "Diet Secrets of the Tupperware Man" comes to mind.) With proper planning, nutrition can be a LOT more manageable than most people think. In turn, this may help with some of Joan's other problems - some injuries will be helped by an anti-inflammatory diet, her stress levels may drop, and her sleep will likely be higher quality.

-Take time to set new goals, both short term and long term. Joan will be a lot more excited if she has something she's striving for. The goals – especially the short term goals – don't have to be huge. They should be adjusted to her current lifestyle, but still challenging enough to capture her attention and require consistency.

-Ask the obvious questions: Has she had the injuries looked at? Has she talked with her husband about setting a schedule for taking care of the kids that will allow her to train more? Is getting a sitter an option?

-Make sure Joan knows she is an important part of your community and you don't want to see her leave. It's important she realizes she's appreciated, and that you remember that she was there from the early days.


wrote …

Two words, GARAGE GYM. I would talk to her about how much room she has and if she would be interested in investing in a minimum amount of equipment. Lets face it her life isn't going away, and her ability to make it into the box isn't going to change, I have this life, but because she is experienced she will be able to train on her own, maybe even get her family involved. Assure her that Crossfit is exactly made for her and the life that she leads (unknown and unknowable for life not just competition) Keep her coming into the box the twice a week, by setting her up with programming she can do at home that will kick her back into gear, and when she can get into the box her intensity will go through the roof when she can train in the group.

Secondly I would give some attention to her injuries. I would give her some work to do to cure that tennis elbow, while it doesn't affect performance it can kick your ass mentally. The added stress of injuries can be a de-motivator. adjust any wods she does to allow optimal healing of these injuries until there is a marked improvement.

Once she is feeling like she is getting in some high quality training again and her injuries are healed she will be ready to go and will likely find more time to make it into the box.


wrote …

Avoid new injury or aggravating old ones and add focus to her training that she is lacking.

Have her take a week off of anything resembling intense exercise. Have her use that week to draft a plan of what she wants to get out of exercise. Then meet with her and come up with ways to help her achieve that.

Add in the possibility of making house calls for personal training sessions, so as to fit it in with her schedule as much as possible.

Mention that since she was there early on, that she is a good resource to help teach others in the gym the foundational movements.



replied to comment from Jesse Gray

I agree with setting a goal. Right now, CrossFit and her fitness are something she wants to get ahold of again, but you need to look at the behavioral pattern. Specifically, the daily alcohol is an indicator. Nothing wrong with a drink, and we all play hard because we work hard, but not every single night. I would say this helps cool her off. And she needs it because every second of her day is allotted to someone else. That is what happens when you raise a family, and it is great, but you still have to make some time for yourself and to do what makes you happy and keeps you sane. I know for me, and I am sure a lot of other people can agree, that if I miss a WOD I can be an ucomfortable person to be around.

I think that if you gave her some type of goal, and I would lean towards a competitive event (at your affiliate, another affiliate, fundraising activities, outdoor adventure races, etc.) where there is healthy competition. If you get her goal oriented, everything else can get reorganized. I know if there is no deadline or goal, it's easy to say I don't have time. But if you know it's coming, you make time. You scale back on the booze, you tighten down your schedule and make effective use of your time, your friends and loved ones bend over backwards to help you accomplish your goals.


wrote …

a few thoughts, this is not a complete responce since I don't want to repeat other peoples ideas:

1. Do you have any other mothers in your box? If so, introduce them to Joan, buy them Starbucks cards and tell them to go get some coffee. She may find some comfort in knowing she is not alone. No one can maintain a beginners level of progress. However, Joan should be seeing some progress.

2. Do you have a CrossFit kids program? Can you provide group babysitting for mothers / fathers? Can you do two classes back to back where spouses can switch babysitting and exercising? Kids are stressful and it can be relaxing to incorporate them into your CrossFit workout.

3. It sounds like Joan has some decent skills. Can you bring her in as an assistant during your classes? She may enjoy helping new CrossFitters achieve large gains. This may help her put her own diminishing gains in perspective. She is injured and should take some time off. This may be a good compromise, replace some workouts with being an assistant. It keeps her in the gym but allows her to rest.

4. Talk with Joan about the "80% rule". Make a goal and try to stick to it 80% of the time. This gives you some flexibility and still allows you to meet a more realistic goal. For example, she may want to attend 12 classes a month. 80% of 12 is ~10 so she should prepare her self to be satisfied with 10 classes a month.

5. She needs to see a Dr. if the toe didn't heal correctly. She may need to perfect her technique if that is determined to be a cause of the injury. Coach has some good videos on not focusing on "getting back to your previous / uninjured state" but on "exceeding that previous state". For example, she can work on something like deadlifts (low toe & elbow impact).


wrote …

I'm not a CrossFit trainer, but I did train people at a globogym a long time ago, and I am going to approach this in a somewhat idealized manner. In that I mean that we (the trainer) are going to look out for the client, and not necessairy ourselves in getting more sessions booked for our profitabilily. I think that the first thing to do is to sit down and reasses ehr goals. Anywhere from WOD times/ performance to number of times/ week to workout, to overall health (eating, sleeping, etc.) I personally feel that working out helps me with my job performance so I would explain that as well, in that the committment to exercising (not necessairily C.F. box gym exercises) will help with her mental alertness, etc.
I think that the drinking should be addressed. I enjoy a beer or a glass of wine, but not EVERY single night. Maybe myself and others are reading too precisely into the wording of the narrative of the situation, but I would discuss it.
As her life has changed, her exercise goals etc will change. If she 'misses the good ole days" that's great, and I would probably put her on shorter more intense WODs, as well as heavier and more technical WODs on her gym/ box days, and I would give her a bunch of take home WODs for her other 2/ week.. at nights and early mornings (runs, bodyweight exercises (squats, pushups, etc.) as well as streatching, etc.
There has been a lot of discussion about taking a lot of time off... I don't agree. I think that by taking time off, (a lot) she'll be regressing further and therefore getting further from a maintainable exercise lifestyle. I would prefer to ask her to do a few take home WODs and ask her what she wants to get out of exercise and what it means to her and why she liked it.
2 intense days in the gym and 2 at home/ week can more than maintain and can give gains to most people as far as I'm concerned. It's not 3 on 1 off, but a lot of people can't maintain that routine. Everyone's not a firebreather.
I love the idea of getting her to fall back in love with C.F. by giving her a few of her favorite WODs, but that's a short term fix. What's going on will reoccur if she doesn't take a minute to ask herself what she wants to get out of working out in general. If it's just body health and maintenance, then the 4/ wk I"ve mentioned will probably do the trick. If she wants to get back and then some, I would stress the possibility of personal at home sessions as well. That could be good for everyone, if she's got the area at home to accomodate I would even offer to help her set up a garage space if that's an option. Don't know her living situation.
Can't force someone to workout, not for too long at least. Passion less fgrequently is better than quitting, and as long as she's going in the direction to realisticly accomplish the goals that she wants then life's mishaps and ereatic schedules will be easier to handle in my opinion.
Please feel free to contact me with comments regarding my analysis, and workout advice.


wrote …

First of all I have not read any other comments so they would not influence my thinking, so any similarities are coincidental for what it's worth.
With the limited information available I would say it's time to step more into the role of counselor/coach with Joan, and help her re-visit the fundamental "why" of her participation in crossfit. I would ask her directly, what her initial reasons were for joining, and whether those reasons are still intact. Rather than adopting a pleading tone, I would make it clear that although it would be disappointing to see her fade off, ultimately she needs to examine her priorities in depth, and make a personal decision to renew the commitment. I would put that firmly on her to make that happen.
In terms of the injuries and programming, I always look at injuries as opportunities. There are always areas that need improvement, and with her elbow injured, perhaps we can focus in on some specific area or motor quality that she has been wanting to improve. It's an opportunity! Maybe we can make corrections to her squat form, or help her get her first muscle up. These kinds of achievements can be very gratifying, and can go a very long way to renewing someone's drive. So I would definitely help her set some specific, reasonable, time oriented goals, and have her write them down.
I might also mention to her that she's at a crossroads. Many people have reached precisely this same point in their training, and most have let it derail their training. Some however, have met the adversity and overcome it. She has the choice of which group to be in.


wrote …

Try to get her to sign her kids up for classes! also, try and get into her head that she doesnt need to be breaking records and setting PRs everyday. she needs to just do what she can and try her best to be happy. dont sound desperate but try to let her know that it is not the crossfit that is making her unhappy. maybe she should take some time off from crossfit, maybe 8 weeks, and take a swimming class at the globo gym and meditation (not at the globogym). then when her injuries are gone or at least better she will feel better about working out.


wrote …

Joan, This comes from a 52yo husband with no kids. I think you need to congratulate yourself on all that you have accomplished and continue to grind out. Two WODs on top of work, kids, mate, home, and what about you and oh yeah I have injuries that won't heal. Take some deep breathes and smile. Life like Crossfit comes in waves, peaks and troughs, progression, regression and plateaus. As much as our monkey minds say "I want it all now", my experience is that expecting that will be a hard row to hoe. Rest, sleep and just backing off can go a long way to heal oneself; but once again its the mind thing, to give your self some slack to heal, regenerate, rejuenate. You are young in mid stride with a young family. I can't think of a more intense Crossfit WOD than AMRAP kids, work , husband, home, what about me,oh yeah and what are we going to eat, seven days a week, year after year.

I would concur with He who recommends Home Garage Gym. Screw the garage, a jump rope, kettle bell, wall ball, pull up bar at home, along with a 400m run around the block goes along way in taming dragons. I am sure my neighbors shake their heads; "whats he doing now?". Yeah, I love my box and the group thing; but when I can't make it happen, a 15 minute home WOD, out back, in the drive way, around the block, and wow another dragon slain. No one can do it for us. As always it is up to us as individuals. It is the dragon I think we all face every day, every moment. How will you handle it? A box, a coach, fellow athletes before the bar, can be there for comraddery, motivation, competition, yet push come to shove, it comes down to you.


wrote …

Some very good, and well thought comments. Personally I would agree she needs a change of pace and environment. A break from the box may be needed, with a move to private sessions or at least sessions with those of her own ability/desire level. After all, the goal is to keep her active, motivated and wanting more again. That may include CF, and it may not. If we relate everything to CF in our conversations with her then we risk demotivating her altogether. Hopefully, she recharges and gets back at it, back in the box. CF is a powerful tool, but it's not the whole toolbox. It's not going to work for everyone and there will be clients who move away from it. Some will return and some will not. That's OK. It's a unique program.


replied to comment from Alan Bressler

Totally agree with the home WOD and the dragonslaying. Like yours, my neighbors also spend alot of time throwing puzzled looks at my house.


wrote …

Along with all of these great suggestions I would give her some exercise to incorporate into her everyday routine. For example, while she is cooking or doing homework with her kids fit in some pushups, airs squats, double under practice or dips, really anything you can think of that she may need to work on. Set a timer and every 10 minutes the family does 10 pushups or something. You can fit a lot of exercise in throughout your busy day.


wrote …

Discuss her responsibility as a mum, and ask her what she would want her family to do for themselves if they where in her situation? Will she be setting that example if she stops exercising and neglects her own health? Will she be as productive at work or as a mum if she isn't fit or healthy? Question seem to be powerful because they let the person make their own decision rather than feel like they are being told what they know they should do.

For the training side of things, I would have her set some achievable goals that are within the limits of her current physical restraints. Focus on the movements she can do (squat, hip extension, hip flexion) and possibly some single arm movements, Push, pull, press movements are going to be an issue due to the elbow. Making use of equipment like bands and weight vests will also add variety to the training even when programming limited movement patterns. Focus on mobility and rehabbing the elbow.

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